What exactly constitutes a horror film?
Well, it cannot simply be the fact that said film frightens the audience, because verily, a lot of films that fall under the umbrella of comedy, historical drama or family musical contain their fair share of scary moments. In fact, the movie responsible for the most nightmares in the history of cinema is the relatively innocuous Wizard of Oz, so should we call that one a horror film? And what about all of those Disney movies, did not the burning forest in Bambi or the hallucinatory scenes in Dumbo cause pants pissing horror in many a prepubescent theater-goer?
Well, horror cannot be defined by the graphic imagery of the film, either, as there are plenty of films outside the genre that contain exuberant blood and gore. Saving Private Ryan has more celluloid splatter in its first ten minutes than the entire Friday The 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series COMBINED, yet no one labels that film as turgid, ribald horror, do they? If we were using violence as a gage of so-called horrordom, then surely we must list Sam Peckinpah alongside George Romero and Herschel Gordon Lewis as one of the genres foremost founding fathers. The same argument can be made about sexual content, as well.
Well, what about technique, and filming? Once again, this is not exclusive to the genre, as virtually every mainstream movie made since 1987 has at least one scene of prolonged trepidation, whether it is in the form of a dinosaur stampede or James Bond defusing a time bomb. What separates a suspense film from an action film from a thriller? All three are based around the same principle, of apprehensive dread, are they not, so what is the difference amongst them, let alone that which segregates them from the domain of horror?
And you cannot use the thematic device either, since a lot of non-horror movies contain supernatural elements, from Twilight to The Passion Of The Christ to Spider-Man. Would you call any of those films horror movies (even though, structurally, one is about vampires, the other a ghost and the latter, fundamentally, just a reworked werewolf yarn)?
Huh, so what the hell IS a horror film then?
Perhaps more than any other genre of moviemaking, the horror film is rooted in a sort of attitude, a pervasive nihilism that states that at best, things are not as they appear and that at the absolute bleakest, life IS disposable. The horror film is existential exploration in four reels, a scathing indictment of the social order and the way life is fraudulently flaunted as so. Mayhap that is why horror films seem to be such luscious fruits of analysis for the armchair philosophe; what makes the horror film a horror film is, essentially, the person watching it.
Therefore, to some, a mere multi million dollar ghost story has no affect whatsoever whereas a sensitive, 1970s anti-war film may in fact scare the viewer senseless. Horror is, unquestionably, the most objective of genres, and the same way in which there is no such thing as a universal pattern of thought, there is no universal notion that the totality of the human race finds terrifying. To answer my own rhetoric from earlier, what constitutes a horror film? Simple, it is whatever the individualistic viewer BELIEVES it to be.
This list is rather different from most lists of the ilk. If you are a dyed in the wool horror fanatic, I am certain that you have seen these films and hold them in the same high esteem as I do. However, the audience for this particular article are those that have not seen the movies listed above, and especially those out there that dislike so-called horror movies. The objective of this listing is quite multifaceted, as I desired to accomplish several goals in its being; for starters, yes, I wanted to espouse some horror films that I believe are genuinely underappreciated by the cinematic world at large. I think that one is pretty much a given considering my pedigree. However, I also wanted to EXPAND the definition of horror and showcase some films that are typically labeled as being outside the genre that I consider, on a personal level, to be amongst the scariest offerings ever presented by Hollywood. A lot of these movies, you ARE going to disagree with, but that is the point. This is not a listing of anything even remotely resembling the best of the genre, nor is it a calculation of the genres undersung works. Rather, this is a listing of 25 out-of-left-field horror movies that may make the viewer envision the genre in a different spectrum, a sort-of eye-opener for the non-horror fan (and perchance for the close-minded horror aficionado, too). If chemical alteration is the gateway to mental expansion, than I proudly declare this article to be the horror equivalent of downing an entire bottle of nutmeg. Now, on with the offbeat, the obscure and the esoteric!
#025 Night of the Creeps (1986)
Well girls, I have some good news, and I have some bad news. The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, theyre DEAD.
The above line was spoken through the mustachioed lips of Tom Atkins, the heroic Detective Cameron in this legendary 1986 B-Movie tour de force. Whereas a multitude of neo-horror films have attempted clever pastiches of the B-Movie, I suppose Night of the Creeps is the only one to do it RIGHT. Huh, a movie that makes fun of B-movies that, fundamentally, IS a B-Movie itself. Wow, meta.
This movie is so sure-handed in direction (attribute that to lead helm Fred Dekker) that it is able to rise above being an ironically likable 80s relic and become a genuinely admirable film that, while restricted by its 1980s chronology, no doubt, is MORE than sheer nostalgic displacement. There is a real movie here, with a real heart, and in the long run, that makes it more effective and enjoyable than about 90 percent of the films released during the epoch.
This film is basically, a crappy 1980s horror flick that WORKS. The two lead actors? You actually care about them. The dialogue and the snappy one-liners? Actually funny and memorable. You know how sometimes, you go back and watch a movie from the 80s and the main female lead is supposedly hot and she is sporting an anachronistic Winger-sized beehive hairdo and dressed like something out of JEM? Well, in this movie, the object of desire is actually, legitimately, 100 percent attractive, in a decent sort of way and not the typical naked kind of way most movies from the mid 80s were so inclined to exhibit. Even the soundtrack is kind of catchy (you WILL be humming Blue Kiss for a week, assuredly). Night of the Creeps is a movie that simply breaks all of the established genre mandates of the era. It may be a crappy 80s horror movie, but darn it, it might just be the BEST crappy 80s horror movie ever made.
Night of the Creeps is simply a film you have to experience, if just once. Somewhere amidst all of the frat boy zombies, soriority girls packing flamethrowers, non-stop in jokes (who would not want to attend classes at CORMAN University, right?) and undead alien axe murders, one is sure to find one of the most satisfying horror comedies known to man. And the best part? After years and years of being relegated to dusty VHS shelving, the film is FINALLY coming to DVD this Halloween, which means there is NO excuse for missing this first-class homage to the genre flick.
Now, start running to your preferred electronics outlet, and the whole time, you damned better be screaming like banshees. . .
#024 The Curse (1987)
Every now and then, you stumble across a great genre film that you are almost positive that no one else in the world has seen. Viewing The Curse for the first time, that is the PRECISE notion that I walked away with. Well, I would have if I could have walked, since it is kind of hard to triangulate and vomit at the same time.
Yes, yes, The Curse holds the proud distinction of being the only movie I witnessed in my teenage years to cause me to upchuck, and for the longest time, my friends utilized THAT element as perhaps the films greatest advertising point. Yes, this movie will make you nauseous, but it is WELL worth going out of ones way to experience.
Moving is a scary thing. Your parents getting remarried is a scary thing. Having to go through both simultaneously is heart-pounding, and when the transition is a virtual shift in ideological venue (per, moving from the city to the countryside), it can be downright mortifying. The Curse is a movie that picks up on that, and exploits it to its full potential. Truthfully, I could not help but see myself in Wil Wheatons shoes, playing the intellectual protagonist whom refuses to chow down on his religious zealot step fathers irradiated vegetation. Sure, the film is TECHNICALLY about an Appalachian ranch (in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, if I remember correctly) that is poisoned by an alien meteor, but as the villain of the film admonishes his step son for violating the sacrosanct measures of the Christian scripture, I think we can all deduce what the film is REALLY a metaphor, uh, for.
This is an incredibly under-the-radar VHS gem that wallows in the earthly fears of parental abdication, self-ideal and counter-conformity while under the guise of monster makeup, wormy apples and the occasional yellowed sputum (which, in case you are wondering, is what made my lose my breakfast of peanut butter cups and microwave pizza during my initial viewing of the video.)
This is late 80s socio-cultural horror that provides a satiating parable whilst simultaneously refusing to skimp out on the gruesome. Featuring a dynamite performance by Claude Akins (one of his final film roles of note), this is a fantastical glimpse into the underbelly of Reagans America, and my, what a beastly, monstrous sight it is.
#023 Martin (1977)
George Romero is something of a pioneer in the field of social horror. In fact, many claim that his seminal 1968 work Night of the Living Dead effectively created the whole damn genre, so it should come as no surprise that the directors modern day vampire opus is ripe with commentary on the concomitant societal structuring.
Romero himself has declared this his finest work, and it is not difficult to see why, as this is a subdued, intellectualized horror flick that tends to blur the line betwixt reality and fantasy, of the psychological and the spiritual, of the concrete and the philosophized. I say this; what is more disturbing, the acts that the eponymous character instigates in the film, or the theoretical mindset that would produce such sadistic whims and desires?
For me, it is the attention to detail that really sells the movie. Whereas most slasher films are about the quick kills, this one builds tension, and dread, and doubt, and even dare I say it, a sense of reality to the phantasmagoria bloodshed. At one point, the director stretches a murder sequence out for twenty minutes; it is not to imply sadism, but rather, to show the systematic processes behind the vampiric character. This is a supernatural yarn that is too smart for superstitious thought; of course Martin is not a REAL vampire, but with sedatives and razor blades, what is the difference between those tools and a hypnotic glare and pointy incisors?
With all of Romeros work, this one is up to the viewer to deconstruct and evaluate. Personally, I found it to be an allegory for the stubborn nature of society, of how the culture refuses to relinquish its regional jihads and progress with the forward movement of the world at large, although I am sure you will walk away with your own individual interpretation of the films implicit meaning.
If you ever wanted to see just how great a filmmaker Romero could be WITHOUT benefit of the shambling undead, then I whole-heartily recommend this late 70s masterpiece of the macabre.
#022 Night of the Demons (1988)
This is a movie that subscribes to the kitchen sink school of filmmaking; in the films eighty eight minute being, I cannot fathom a single element that did not sneak its way into the greater arch of the films celluloid.
This is a late 80s horror movie that, fundamentally, has it ALL, from fat guys having their tongue bitten off to some good old fashioned cheerleader on Goth chick lip lockery. Oh, and the scene with the lipstick. . . well, I will not spoil that quaint little surprise for you, but I assure you, it IS rather, um, vivid.
Sure, Night of the Demons is mere exploitation flick, but it is a self-aware exploitation flick, at that, and unlike the smarmy, pretentious 90s films in the subgenre that pretended to be something, and I quote, better than a horror film (I am looking at you, Scream. . .), this is a film that simply REVELS in its politically incorrect depravity and senseless bloodshed. In fact, some of the finer scenes in the film have gone on to become minute legends in the genre, such as Amelia Kinkades sultry dance number to the tune of Bauhaus. From the Real Life Is About Twenty Gajillion Times Stranger Than Movies File, Ms. Kinkade later went on to become a world renowned pet psychic and totally denounced any and all involvement with the franchise. Hmm, I really do not consider clairvoyant to the canines to be THAT much more respectable than B-movie scream queen, but whatever floats her boat, I suppose.
The film inspired two sequels and an approaching remake, and while those are most certainly mixed in group collective opinion, the 1988 original has remained something of a minor classic in the field. While the totality of the film is greater than any of its sinewy, dismembered parts, I have to pinpoint two particular scenes in closing: first, the grand finale, which is something of a non-sequitir in regards to the movie as a whole, which is a clever mockery of the old razor-blade-in-the-apple urban legend, and perhaps most significant. . .
Finally, a movie where the black guy LIVES for a change!
#021 Evilspeak (1982)
The term cult is thrown around a lot in terms of describing certain elements of popular culture. Per, a film may be a cult classic, or a particular artist may have a cult following. Most of the time, the so-called followers of these movements are not really fans of the works as much as they are hipsters sardonically attaching themselves to an ironic property. That being said, the fans of this movie, and lead star Clint Howard in particular, are far from simple lip service payers.
Of course, Evilspeak is a rip off of about twenty different movies. One will see aspects of Carrie, War Games and even The Devils Rain while watching it, and you know what? This is one example of a derivative work GROWING into something more than the potted vase it was planted into. By utilizing the template of the more renowned works, Evilspeak is able to deviate halfway through the standard revenge-of-the-nerd yarn and become something wholly unique and admirable. Well, about as admirable as watching Opies brother split a preachers head open with a satanic sword can be, I ponder.
Simply put, this is grade A, unadulterated, unfiltered 80s schlock played up to the hilt. Of course, it is rather easy to mock the outmoded constituents of the film (really, utilizing a Tandy to summon the Prince of Darkness?), and yes, the transitions CAN be awkward (the decapitation wiping into a basketball tipoff always made me chuckle AND simultaneously groan), but this is a huge, delicious chunk of gore caked cheese that no connoisseur of bad cinema should go without viewing. I mean, where else are you going to see Ron Howards brother playing a pig-faced demon monster that kills Raj from Good Times with a demonic rapier?
#020 Fight Club (1999)
. . . And it is at about this point that things get a little contentious in the countdown.
A lot of people will look at my viewing of Fight Club, a mainstream, big budget Hollywood flick starring Brad freaking Pitt, as a horror film and either laugh in jest or shout in furor. I can hear the masses already, chanting in unison, Fight Club ISNT a horror movie!
Well, it scared the crap out of me, so why CANT it be a horror film?
Let me explicate. When you walk down the alleyways at night, do you not feel just a mild bit of unease swirling about in your stomach? When you are in a large crowd, do you feel just an auger of distrust and worry? When you go to sleep at night, do you lock your doors before going to bed? Prey tell, what ARE you trying to keep out of your home? Vampires, zombies, werewolves? Nope. What you are trying to bar from your bedchambers is the most universally feared creation in existence: your fellow man.
Fight Club is a movie that examines our REAL world apprehensions, and more often than not, those are the terrors we try to escape from when watching Jason and Freddy movies, as we momentarily distract ourselves from the unbearable torture of self-denial and self-introspection and nihilistic cognitions and dwell upon bloodshed of a most fantastical order.
Conversely, Fight Club offers no such safety in its viewing.
Fight Club is not about consequence-less violence, or ideals without repercussion on the idealists. This is a movie that shows the world in which we inhabit as being a million times more terrifying than anything Clive Barker can dream up, and the only realm more nightmarish than the one we amble to and fro in? Why, the never-ending horror that is our OWN thought. There is no safe refuge, no redemption for the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world that inhabits the concrete purgatory of Fight Club. With that in mind, I say, what could possibly BE more horrifying than that?
#019 Aliens (1986)
Is it sci-fi? Is it horror? Is it a parable for the Vietnam War?
Indeed, James Camerons seminal 1986 masterpiece is all of the above, and as perhaps the only director in Hollywood capable of cajoling 200 million dollars out of the pocket of an investor and putting every single DIME of it on the silver screen, this tour-de-force is a film that is packed reel to reel with thrills, chills and the occasional dripping of sulfuric alien blood.
If the first Alien film was a transposed haunted house yarn, then this film is, veritably, Full Metal Jacket in outer space. If you have played a video game since 1994, you would know just how much the movies space marine motif has benefited the community at large, but there is FAR more to this celluloid classic than rampant heart pounding moments and memorable one-liners.
If you have yet to view it, I HIGHLY suggest one tracks down the three hour directors cut of the film, which adds more exposition behind Ripleys character and annexes a few scenes that makes the film that more involving and engaging. Touching upon issues such as racial inequality, womens rights, the role of motherhood, corporate-military coalescence and overdependence on technology, this is a popcorn movie that is anathema to the 80s blockbuster.
If you are NOT riding a gargantuan adrenaline rush by the time Sigourney Weaver emerges from the shadows in the cargo loader suit, then you, my friend, do not have a pulse. If you see this bitch on store shelves, DONT stay away from it.
#018 Robocop (1987)
Once again, before the detractors begin clamoring that this film is not a horror flick, I must elucidate: Technically, is not Robocop a movie about a zombie that returns from the dead to extract revenge on those that killed him? Is not Alex Murphy a sort of neo-Frankenstein Monster, the resultant of (perhaps over) scientific progression? And what about the kills in this movie, dear lord, the butchery that goes on in this flick is more unsettling than about four or five Jason movies strung together on an endless loop. And how do we, as an audience, respond?
By laughing our asses off, thats how.
Director Paul Verhoeven is a guy that knows American society, and this film is, among other things, an incredible satire of consumer society, a cleverly veiled parable that I would say is on par with the original Dawn of the Dead in terms of skewing the materialistic U.S. culture. Of course, there is a lot of mockery of the late Cold War contingency, of the money-matters decade, and it is effective, but beyond that, this film raises a lot of intriguing moralistic questions about medicinal experimentation, criminal behavior, and the role of industry in government (no, the inverse DOES not apply here).
The Ed-209, and the poor guy that gets caught in its crosshairs. The purported death of Murphy, resulting in Pete Weller having his hand blown off by the guy that played Red on That 70s Show (man, how weird is it watching the movie in retrospect with THAT in mind). And of course, the toxic waste scene. Oh, the glorious, disgusting, hilarious toxic waste scene.
It should come as no surprise that the film was initially given an X rating for such exuberant bloodshed; however, it SHOULD come as a surprise that Robocop is such a fulfilling, philosophical fusion of societal satire, modern day horror, and comic book duality. Override your prime directive if you must, this is a movie that you NEED to see pronto.
#017 Basketcase (1982)
Frank Hennenlotter is, essentially, the Woody Allen of the horror film. All of his films are artistically bent, quasi-existential in theory, and based around a New York locale. However, I doubt that Woody ever mused concocting a romantic comedy about a guy that walks around Times Square with his mutant twin brother in a picnic basket, and in that, there is the genius behind Basketcase.
You see, the main character was born with Belial, a grotesque pudge of fatty teeth and pincers, attached to his stomach, and after doctors separated them, the two swore revenge on the medical community for what they deemed a miscarriage of justice. The film opens with a particularly grisly killing of a wealthy doctor in his suburban fortress (metaphor for classism, perhaps?) and then transitions to the main character roaming the streets of New York, circa 1980, at a time in which NYC was mayhap the GRIMIEST place on earth. Seriously, the streets of the Big Apple, with its dirtied ladies of the night and drug runners, is about fifty time more horrifying than the stop-motion monstrosity that resides in the hotels enigmatic wicker basket.
And yes, believe it or not, this IS something of a romantic comedy. Hey, the lead actor does take his main squeeze to Staten Island for a late evening meal, so how can it NOT be construed as an affable love yarn? Well, there is the problem of the Claymation potato abortion monster that keeps eating prostitutes, but what relationship DOESNT have its slights and grievances?
There is a terrific scene in a movie theater that I shall not spoil, as there is another top notch dream sequence that, to this day, I wonder HOW it was filmed. You will see when you get there.
I cannot say that this movie is for all tastes, but if you have ever eaten more than eight chicken sandwiches in one sitting or flipped off a guy operating a jackhammer, than I would say this is the kind of work that is RIGHT up your alley. Just be careful not to trip over the mauled hobos and dismembered street walkers, will you?
#016 The Brood (1979)
David Cronenberg is one of the few directors that is embraced by the cultist horror collective and the greater Hollywood collective simultaneously. Sure, he has made a couple of mainstream, independent hits like a History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but he is perhaps most beloved because of works like 1979s The Brood.
As the progenitor (and mayhap ONLY advocate) of the body-horror genre, Cronenbergs works are almost always about medicinal oddities and physiological deterioration. In a career that has encompassed fare on everything from cross genetic splicing to blunt force trauma fetishes, stating that this late 70s classic is his MOST disturbing work is certainly praise of the highest order.
The film details a new psychological guru that has developed a therapeutic technique known as psychoplasmics. Effectively, this involves patients allowing their deep seeded, psychological longings to boil towards the surface of the flesh, becoming quite literal afflictions as opposed to mere emotional wounding. Thusly, a man that has much disdain for his parents grows red welts upon his skin, and another person, eaten alive by self-loathing, develops cancer. And then, there is the films lead actress, whom decides to undergo the procedure. As she begins to dwell upon her short comings, her conflicted nature, her subordinate stature in existence and her problematic relations with the opposing gender, she DOESNT grow grotesque pimples or weird scarring upon her visage.
Instead, she becomes pregnant.
I can hear the voices piping already. But with what?
Well, I guess you will just have to see the movie to find out. . .
#015 Halloween II (1981)
As a standalone slasher film, Halloween II is a pretty damned good one, but as a horror sequel, the film is practically god-like in the canon.
As far as I am concerned, this is the way horror sequels should be made. More often than not, follow ups to popular horror films are wild deviations from the original, and take place in chronological settings FAR removed from the original. Most horror movie #2s take place five years after the first movie. Halloween II takes place five SECONDS after the first movie. Now THAT is what I am talking about in derivative cinema!
Say what you will about the original Halloween, and heap it with as much praise as you desire (lets face it, it deserves ALL of it), but if Halloween was but one thing, it was not a very graphic film. Essentially, the first Halloween flick is a bloodless movie.
Yeah, they kind of rectified that one for the sequel. You have to give the writers props on the film; I mean, really, what is a better setting for a slasher movie than a hospital? Think of the endless possibilities, the hypodermic needles, the scalpels, the ball peen hammers. . . well, maybe not so much the ball peen hammers, but it is in there.
And of course, this is the movie the expounds upon the character known as The Shape, drawing further connections between Mike Myers and the Laurie Strode character. And yes, Donald Pleasance is back, and doing what he does best, which is ruling as a modern day Van Helsing.
It is just impossible to not enjoy this flick, with all of the great scenes contained within its celluloid. How about the scene where Michael drips blood all over an old ladies peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Oh, or the scene in the hot tub, or the part where that one guy kills himself by slipping in the bloody pool from a previous killing?
And hey, do not say this movie is all splatter and no suspense; the parking lot scene is as tense as anything in the original movie, and by the time the guy passes out on the steering wheel, well . . .
#014 Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)
In the mid 90s, the rise of the mock-horror film came frighteningly close to killing off the genre once and for all. To this day, we are seeing what are, fundamentally, homages to horror films as opposed to authentic horror films from mainstream distributors, the end result being a multitude of repetitive rip-offs (the Saw series, The Rob Zombie films, so on and so forth) and films that are just straight up goofy, with no intentions of being, and I quote, good filmmaking (turn on the Sci-Fi Channel for further illustration of such).
Bubba Ho-Tep, the brainchild of Phantasm maestro Don Coscarelli, seems like the latter. I mean, really, how can a movie about an octogenarian Elvis fighting a mummy be a decent, respectable work? Well, there are a multitude of reasons why that is so, but the prime factor is the notion that the people that made this movie CARED about what they were putting on the screen. In an industry in which everything has been de-souled and McDonaldized, genuinely unique, heartfelt independent releases of the sort are, lugubriously, becoming a dying breed.
Of course, it IS a ridiculous story, but the people involved with the film treat the subject fare as something more than just baseless parody. I think all the credit in the world should be given to Joe R Lansdale for crafting such an enjoyable little narrative, and mayhap Ossie Davis performance (as a black man that claims to be JFK) shines even BRIGHTER than Bruce Campbells portrayal of the decrepit king of rock and roll. This is the kind of movie that gives you hope for not only the future of the horror film, but the movie industry as a whole; without question, this film is required viewing for any new millennium pop culture hound.
#013 Bowling For Columbine (2002)
All right, I guess I have to defend this selection, too, right?
Many of you may be shaking your heads right now, wondering as to how ANYONE could construe a polemic documentary about gun control as being a horror film. Well, much in the same way I rationalized Fight Club as being a real life social horror tale, I likewise consider this film to be a similar indictment of our cold, modernized existence.
As it turns out, real life horror is a whole lot more Michael Moore than it is Michael Myers.
I hate to burst many a bubble, but, no, you will never get killed by a vampire, or a werewolf, or the walking dead, because, well, they do not exist. Yes, it is fun and whimsical to dwell upon such, but really, how could Dracula and Frankenstein even COMPARE to the reality of school shootings and weekly allied air raids and modern terrorism? Your odds of being dismembered by a psycho murderer with an axe is about as likely as winning the lottery; according to the CDC, you one out of every 140 people in America will meet their demise at via a bullet. Pro gun, anti-gun, it really does not matter: that is some incredibly SCARY stuff to realize, and unlike a Jason movie or The Exorcist, you cannot simply shut off the television and state that its only a movie. Hell, its outside your door already.
Bowling For Columbine is an eye-opening film, a movie that leaves no stone unturned in a quest to uncover the rationale for Americas exorbitantly high murder rate. Its also an enlightening film, a film that will make you think, and a movie that will ensure that you never look at the American landscape, be its urbanized core or its purportedly tranquil suburban strongholds, the same way ever again.
#012 American Movie (1999)
There is a particular scene in this film, in which documentary subject Mark Borchardt watches his hometown football team score a touchdown in the Super Bowl and begins celebrating by drunkenly proclaiming that the same fate shall befall all of those nine-to-five factory workers that never followed their dreams.
I have seen naked people ripped apart by rotting corpses, people eaten alive by ghastly creatures, and by god, even REAL LIFE concentration camp footage, but for some reason, that seemingly trivial scene scared me more than mayhap ANY singular scene I have ever envisioned in cinema. I guess that is because I saw bits of myself in the wannabe director, and truth be told, that is not exactly the happiest of thoughts.
American Movie is sort of a meta-horror movie, a documentary piece about an aspiring Milwaukee filmmaker, his recovering alcoholic best pal, and the humiliating blue-collar jobs he trudges through to support his cinematic sojourns. As an eccentric with ambitions in the film industry myself, this movie is basically my WORST nightmare, which is the INVERSE of the American Dream; what if things DO NOT have a happy ending, what if my goals really are for naught?
Oh boy, now THOSE are nightmarish notions if I have ever envisioned them.
More than a horror film that non-horror fans will love, I would deftly say that this is indeed more or less a non-horror film that ALL horror fans will fall in love with. The documentary does not ridicule its subjects, and by the end of the film, you too will be inspired to fulfill your own ambitions. A life-affirming horror movie, with a positive message about self-sufficiency? Yeah, it exists, and it is called American Movie.
#011 Terror Firmer (1999)
Troma movies, for all intents and purposes, have always felt like a home to me. Somewhere, underneath the liberal sentiments and the rampant bloodshed and the societal ire, I felt amongst kin while watching The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD dispatch horde after horde of racial caricatures. Troma movies are a bizarre crosspollination of the high brow and the low brow, of elitist conviction and of-the-salt splendor. Troma movies mean everything, yet nothing at all, simultaneously. Impossible? Contradictive?
Nope. Its just Lloyd Kauffman doing what he does best.
Terror Firmer is my favorite Troma movie, and in many ways, it is a quasi-autobiographical account of the country s longest running independent film studio. In something of a stretch, real-life director Kauffman also stars in this film, as a (literally) blind director that is faced with the threat of an on-site mass murderer that is dwindling the numbers of his cast, one gaffer and best boy at a time.
There is something about this movie, and Troma movies, in general, that just make me feel as if my place in the universe is secured. Of course, the easily offended will have a hard time getting through this one (since the film contains an abortion, a guy getting his leg ripped off and a handgun suicide. . . and that is just in the first TWO minutes of the film), but for those of you with senses of humor (and iron stomachs), this is an offbeat, titillating treat from the worlds foremost makers of B-movie splatter AND celluloid satire.
#010 Eating Raoul (1982)
Every now and then, you will hear a film referred to as a black comedy. And no, I am not referencing anything by Tyler Perry or the Wayans Brothers, so please try to get out of that mindset.
I suppose the best definition of black comedy would be a film in which the humor of the film is derived from morbid elements, like death, bodily affliction, so on and so forth. More often than not, films in this subgenre are one-joke premises that never rise above gimmickry, but one noteworthy exception to the rule is Eating Raoul.
This 1982 film manages to do what very few horror-comedies manage to accomplish, and that is strike a fairly equal quota of on-screen chuckles and mayhem. However, in addition to those prerequisites, this movie also includes a considerable amount of social commentary, and while jokes about lower middle class married life in LA may seem archaic now, I believe there is still something to be said about the films take on the stratification of the culture (per, all of the upper class yuppies are exhibited as moral-less, sex-starved whackos whilst the downtrodden are the only truly moral characters within the film).
So, what are the horror elements of this film? Well, I simply state this: have you ever wondered what was REALLY in cat food? Well, as it turns out. . .
#009 Heavenly Creatures (1994)
In many ways, this film is something of a transitional piece for Mr. Jackson, a stepping stone that propelled him from crimson-soaked zombie maestro to big budget Hollywood auteur.
Peter Jackson, by and large, is known for his film epics and extremely gory slapstick farces. When the vaunted filmmaker released Heavenly Creatures in 1994, however, video-tape buffs across the globe were shocked by his latest offering.
Those expecting another blood-soaked horror comedy were more than likely floored by the subdued nature of the film, which was actually a rather sensitive, cold portrayal of both teenage alienation and vicious homicide. The story, which garnered Jackson his first Oscar nomination (albeit as screenwriter), is about two New Zealand girls in the 1950s, one of whom is played by a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet. As the film progresses, the line betwixt actuality and fantasy is juxtaposed, as the harsh reality of mid-century psychology and tuberculosis are displayed in their full coarseness alongside fantastical dream sequences in which the duo imagine enormous flights of fancy, such as gargantuan butterflies and entire kingdoms of whimsical beings.
After being separated (due to their parents respective fears of their homosexuality), the two decide to hatch a plan to remain together, and the resultant is perhaps the grisliest murder scene of the 1990s.
This is not just an outstanding horror film, but an outstanding piece of effective cinema, regardless of genre limitations. For those of you burned out on the guttural lifelessness of the modern-day horror movie, this is one mid-90s masterpiece that is well worth tracking down.
#008 All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
You are standing, drenched to the bone in filthy, stagnated water. You have not eaten in a solid week, and the temperature has dipped below freezing. You hear massive roaring in the background, as you slowly begin to move forward, watching your best friends entangle themselves in barbed wire. One by one, your colleagues drop dead: as you survey the field in front of you, you envision thousands upon thousands of corpses strewn about, in various stages of dismemberment and decay. After such prolonged exposure, you are too numb to soak in the carnage, to remember the faces of your loved ones, or to even feel your own heartbeat. Veritably, you have become one of the walking dead.
Am I referencing just another zombie movie?
Try the single most important war in the history of humanity.
As an astute history connoisseur, the 1930 Oscar winner for best picture is among the most startling and true to life recreations of The Great War ever filmed. Based upon the legendary pacifist novel by Erich Remarque, this film embodies the ultimate emptiness of warfare, of mans greatest act of nihilism. Verily, what could be more terrifying than being plucked from your homeland and forced to fight for your own subsistence, to battle and maim in the name of some invisible ideal? This film is relentless in its presentation, and nearly 80 years removed from its initial release, it remains one of the gutsiest indictments of jingoism and nationalism ever filmed, in addition to being an artistic triumph for the art form.
Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Romeros zombies: All the stuff of make-believe.
The Battle of The Marne, with its half-million dead: a haunting, sobering reality, made even more terrifying by the notion that such whole sale slaughter is but a cyclical course for the human species to traverse.
#007 Cannibal Holocaust (1982)
Back in 1999, during the zenith of Blair Witch mania, I simply REFUSED to be swept up in the sensationalism. Is it because the movie sucked and was a complete and total corporate hype job, falsely exhibited as independent filmmaking? Well, yeah, of course, but the thing is, a movie from nearly twenty years prior did the EXACT same thing that the Blair Kitsch Project attempted, except the end result in THAT film was genuinely shocking and whole-heartily unique for a genre that had been bled dry by derivative killer filler.
Cannibal Holocaust is a movie that is NOT for the weak of heart. While the main structure of the film is staged, the movie does indeed include REAL scenes of torture, perhaps the most famous of which is a segment in which a sea turtle is gutted on camera. Obviously, those of you that feel strongly about animal rights might want to skip out on this one.
This movie is so cleverly made that, over time, the same guys that initially declared it as deplorable cinematic garbage have come to appreciate its brutal, no-holds-barred presentation and thorough (albeit subdued) commentary on both Western influence on the world at large as well as our penchant for cathartic debauchery. As far as the special effects go, the gore scenes in this movie are so realistic that the Italian government initially charged the filmmakers with the murder of the cast and crew (as part of the gimmick, the actors of the film signed a so-called disappearance clause prior to the films release which prohibited them from public exposure.)
This is, without question, one of the landmark titles in extreme horror, a blend of technique, ingenuity, social exploration and on-screen mayhem that, to this day, is unparalleled within its genre. For those of you with cast-iron stomachs and nerves of steel (not to mention INCREDIBLY liberal views on artistic expression), this is an absolute must-see event; more than just a mere horror movie, this may very well be one of the most subversively beautiful works of cinematic originality in the last fifty years of moviemaking.
#006 Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Very few books have had as profound an influence on my being as Dalton Trumbos 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun. Written just months before the outbreak of World War I, Trumbos tale is a heart-wrenching, incendiary polemic horror story about a doughboy that is horribly wounded in battle, leaving the main character as but a bloody trunk sans appendages or facial features.
I actually first heard of the novel via the Metallica music video One, which incorporated scenes from the 1971 film version, also directed by Trumbo. After reading the novel one winter, I was so moved by the prose that I made it my life s effort to track down a long out of print VHS copy of the movie, which starred Timothy Bottoms in the role of the doomed US soldier Joe Bonham. The book so haunted me that I was actually AFRAID of witnessing the film; I suppose that is the duality of humankind, to be afraid of what we seek and to seek what we fear, no?
Eventually, I found a faded, mildewed copy at a flea market, and snatched up the Grail like relic for only a few nickels.
I long considered JGHG to be a virtually unfilmable movie; however, the sure handed directorial styling of Trumbo (perhaps most famous for being black listed from Hollywood during the height of McCarthyism in the 50s), manages to do the unthinkable and tell a visual tale that is firmly representative of the book as a whole.
JGHG is a film that will outrage you and depress you; it will make your head pound and your heart break. It will make your stomach churn, and in some instances, make you crack a smile. It is a film that is of-its-own mastery, a bold, brazen statement about mans inhumanity AND what exactly encompasses the condition of being human. This is not just suitable fare for the horror aficionado in search of obliquities, this is a film that anyone daring to call themselves human SHOULD witness.
#005 Men Behind The Sun (1988)
One of history s oft-overlooked tragedies details that Imperialist Japanese occupation of mainland China during World War II. Whereas a multitude of films have been produced on the subject of Nazi inhumanity, there are very few movies out there on the subject of the Chinese holocaust, and this 1988 Hong Kong production is without question one of the most disturbing, distressing and unrelenting films EVER MADE.
Detailing the conditions of the interned at Unit 731 (a Japanese ran science office in which Chinese civilians were subjected to barbaric experimentations), the film includes scenes of nihilistic symbolism that mayhap will NEVER be challenged in the annals of cinema.
The two most controversial scenes involve footage from a REAL life exploratory autopsy and a scene in which a cat is thrown into a room filled with mice. Obviously, ones preexisting notions on the matters of animal cruelty and morbid sensationalism will dictate whether one views such as ballsy metaphorical inclusion or borderline criminal activity, but perhaps that IS the point the film is trying to make.
Perchance the only thing more troubling and horrifying about the world than the atrocities being committed on a daily basis is the notion that we, as a collective, just do not care that they transpire. Men Behind The Sun is a movie that forces the viewer to accept that, to look into the mirror and realize that long after the movie comes to finality, there is still an endless supply of misery and bloodshed to be had on the planet.
#004 The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike is my favorite director on the planet at the concurrent, and with ultra-creative, genre melding efforts such as this 2001 gem, it does not look like he will have to vacate the title of King of the Japanese Horror Flick anytime soon.
The film is rather, uh, difficult to summarize. Let us just say that it is about, among other things, family, and alongside it, ones individualistic obligations to said family.
Well, that, and suicide. And zombies. And musical interludes. And Keystone Kops slapstick. And stop-motion claymation non-sequitirs. And DANCING. And a sing-along segment about covering-up a murder scene. And generational ideological schism. And detective subplots. And oh yeah, a volcano that is ready to erupt at any minute and obliterate the entire cast.
. . . do I really need to say anymore? If you have not put this one on your NETFLIX queue by now, you have no part in my society, pal.
#003 Ichi The Killer (2001)
There are some movies out there that make you feel somewhat icky after watching them. After watching Ichi The Killer, you feel as if you have just crawled on your belly for twenty miles through a landfill, and the most distressing thing about it? You think you may actually kind of LIKED the taste of garbage and crud on your teeth.
Yet another masterpiece of the grotesque from Japanese mastermind Takashi Miike, Ichi The Killer is a brutal, take-no-prisoners set-up of the Yakuza film, which is veritably, the Japanese analogue to the American mafia flick. What sets Ichi The Killer apart from those films, however, is the movies unrelenting brusqueness; this film does not just trek through unpleasantness, it wallows in it. In fact, the film was so incessantly violent that at its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, barf bags were handed to theatergoers before it was screened.
Sure, sure, anybody can make a film that is pure violence for violence sake, but this movie pushes it to the absolute limit. How intense is this film, how sadistic and gleeful is it while miring in scenes of people being split in half, of scenes in which portions of the female anatomy are slowly sliced off, in close up no less? Let me put it to you like this: this movie makes combined life-time works of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Sam Peckinpah look like Muppet Babies in comparison.
This is sadomasochistic satire that will make you feel like a pariah, as if your body is covered in leprous lesions just by watching it. Its also a deftly enjoyable film, and a well put-together one, at that. Simply put, Ichi The Killer is degenerate cinema at its absolute finest, and a rite of passage for any so-called film freak to endure.
#002 Dracula (1931 Spanish Version)
For all intents and purposes, Dracula was the first truly Americanized horror film. Sure, there were plenty of great European works in the silent era, but the Universal classic became the template for all US horror films to follow. In viewing Freddy Krueger and Hannibal Lector, it is quite easy to see the influence of Bela Lugosi on both of those iconic characters., and what haunted house in the modern horror film HAS NOT been inspired by the set pieces and architecture of the film?
That being stated, the Spanish language version of the movie, filmed at the exact same time and using the exact same set as the more acknowledged US production, was perhaps a more fulfilling, technologically impressive feat than its American counterpart.
In addition to being a much longer film (by about forty minutes, approximately), the movie had several notable differences from the Universal version, which effectively, made the film more violent and sensual, to boot.
Utilizing what were, at the time, revolutionary techniques like trolley shots and long distance tracking, the film became quite an influential work in regards to the technical merits of horror moviemaking, with a profound impact on the lighting procedures utilized to create atmosphere.
The Spanish version of Dracula is an important piece of cinematic achievement, and its influence on the horror genre is something that cannot be overstated. Since the vampire movie has become a staple of Halloween viewing, how about ditching the glittery bloodsuckers and Francis Ford Coppola dreck for an afternoon alongside Juan Harker and Senor Dracula this 31st?
. . . and the number one, out-of-left-field, genre-defying horror film that you NEED to see is . . .
#001 Battle Royale (2000)
Reflecting on the cinematic decade that was, I am hard pressed to consider a single film that has effected me as profoundly as the 2000 movie Battle Royale. Granted, there are better films to be found throughout the last ten years; films that are better acted, better directed and better scripted, but there is nary a movie from the same epoch that resounds as singularly poignant as director Kinji Fukasakis Uber-violent magnum opus.
It is somewhat difficult to approach a starting point in dissecting such a work; begrudgingly, I suppose one would best begin with the controversy surrounding the film, specifically, the purported banning of movie from United States distribution (which, in actuality, is the resultant of a copyright dispute rather than the films content).
Despite the films lack of commercial availability in the North American market, Battle Royale has, regardless, become an international cult phenomenon, largely due to word of mouth publicity and the proliferation of Internet file sharing. Whilst many are quick to pinpoint the films unremitting brutality as the root source of the films transcontinental popularity, after subsequent viewings, one walks away with a far different, much more contemplative rationale; simply put, Battle Royale is the bravest work of cinematic satire this decade, a biting indictment of generational conflict, ideological inheritance and the schism betwixt the autonomy of the individual and the collective functionalism of society at large.
Battle Royale is very much what I would call a work of Social Fiction; a sort of obfuscated gawk at Japanese culture through the blinders of the nations most astute outsider auteur, whom in his days of youth as a junior clean-up cub for Hirohitos Imperialist regime, waltzed headlong into the duplicitous and mendacious reality of unquestioned, nationalistic allegiance. In that, his film very much displays a moralistically rebellious tinge that drips from every pore of the reels celluloid skin; in a land in which the terms different and wrong are synonymous, Fukasaki has risen to the ranks of being the latters most vehement apologist.
In the concomitant reality, the nation of Japan, unsure of how to handle an increasingly autonomous, self-independent crop of youngsters, elects to curtail such outbursts of self-government by instigating a most - extreme deterrent; each year, a random classroom is selected and thrown into a perverse, publicly viewed death trap in which the middle-school aged children are forced to murder on another until a lone survivor is stationed as king or queen of the remote island locality.
Battle Royale is unquestionably an uneasy film to watch; the intense scenes of violence within the film, enacted by actual preadolescents, practically ensures that mainstream absorption into the American cinematic gamut is all but unfeasible; that being stated, those that walk away with a refraction of the film as simply being a cavalcade of brutality are shortchanging the films veracious qualities in an almost criminal manner.
Not unlike a more subdued film, such as The Graduate, the intent of Battle Royale is to explore generational ideology, and how such ideals and notions are often instilled (or mandated) by the authoritarian decree of both the parental base and society at large as self-discovery and self-propulsion are often looked down upon by the disgusted veneers of the general populace.
Although very much playing to the sentiments and locality of theJapanese market, which in itself is a very insulated and somewhat xenophobic culture, it is not difficult to pinpoint allusions to American culture as well; in a scene early on in the film, a windbreaker clad teacher displays a piece of government propaganda to his class, an act which explicates the rationale for why they are being forced to kill one another. In the pastiche of a newsreel, a Japanese analogue for Britney Spears bounces back and forth, wrapped in militaristic garb and shining faux smirks as she details the ensuing bloodshed of the sojourn with the effervescence of a soda commercial pitchwoman. Forced to leer at a popular rock band that spouts an army-purchased ballad at the beginning of every cinematic trek I take, I concurrently note such an amalgamation of fervent nationalism and predisposed popular culture in our hinterland.
Battle Royale, for all intents and purposes, is a film that is vaunted for its chutzpah more than its inert cinematic quality; although that is, seemingly, a backhanded compliment, the film itself, in a very bizarre manner, is a top-notch offering from a most esoteric of genres, a sort of neo-Lord Of The Flies with smatterings of Mishima and Debs caught within the solidified chunks of arterial spray coalescing amongst the walls.
Without hesitance, Battle Royale is most certainly not a film for all tastes; that being said, cinema-goers with stomachs strong and minds open enough will find the oddball delicacy to be the most unexpected of
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Well, that is the countdown. I cannot state with all due sincerity that the person reading this list will enjoy EVERY single film I have discussed and dissected in this article, but I am most certain that he or she will find at least one or two movies here that the singular soul shall find entertaining, enlightening and rewarding (or horrifying, mortifying and soul-crushing, if that is how you prefer to look at things).
There is a lot of great, out-there stuff in the land of cinema that deserve far more recognition than they are currently receiving. Granted, a lot of this stuff is quite obscure and hard-to-find, but I suppose that is one of the benefits of being a fan of the esoteric film form, no?
Often, it pays to be adventurous and exploratory: remember when you were a kid, and you refused to eat more than a few kinds of food? Well, as you got older, your taste buds changed, and suddenly, you realize that there is an unlimited amount of culinary options at your disposal. With that in mind, after watching Jason and Freddy do their stuff for the last twenty years, don t you think that it is high past time you tried a DIFFERENT cinematic cuisine?
Hey, you might just like that gross-looking new stuff lying on the plate, you know. . .
Author James Swift is a Metro Atlanta college student / office drone and a metaphor
for. . .